Yet another Israeli politician throws down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and makes headlines in the process, but the big story of the day is a whodunit surrounding the death of Hezbollah mastermind Hassan al-Laqis on Wednesday.
“Another strike at Hezbollah,” reads Maariv’s headline as it reports that Laqis was shot approximately five times in the neck and head in his car by an unknown assailant. He later died of his wounds in a Beirut hospital. Laqis, who headed the Hezbollah drone project, “was regarded as one of the greatest assets in the organization and his assassination is considered the greatest hit the group has suffered since the assassination of military chief Imad Mughniyeh five years ago,” the paper writes.
Hezbollah, Haaretz writes, blamed Israel for the assassination, and in a break from tradition, Israel’s Foreign Ministry denied any involvement in the incident. The paper writes that as head of the Hezbollah technology department, Laqis had close ties with Syrian and Iranian intelligence. Yedioth Ahronoth credits Laqis with “turning Hezbollah into the strongest terror group in history,” a group “which has the firepower that 90% of the states in the world don’t,” it quotes former Mossad chief Meir Dagan saying.
Israel Hayom reports that “Laqis was not an especially well-known figure, and wasn’t even counted among the commanders of Hezbollah, but filled the most important roles in the organization.” Those roles, the paper writes, included being “responsible for establishing the group’s independent communications network in Lebanon, overseeing the UAV program and commanding the anti-aircraft systems.” Maariv adds to that list “night vision equipment, wireless and listening networks… and advanced Iranian rockets and missiles.”
“According to certain sources, he was responsible for arming [Hezbollah] ahead of a future conflict with Israel,” Israel Hayom writes.
If flareups north of the border weren’t enough to keep Israel’s leadership preoccupied, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin joined the growing ranks of Netanyahu critics, calling Israel’s leadership “weak” and criticizing the deal to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons as a precondition to peace talks as “cynical nauseating business.” He said the move was made so that Israel would not be obliged to freeze settlement construction.
“I oppose in principle the release of prisoners under pressure or threat,” Yedioth Ahronoth quotes Diskin saying. “At the same time, I am convinced a peace agreement would justify even the release of prisoners — but only in its final stages.”
His most biting criticism, however, was that “the leaders on both sides, those who are supposed to lead and inspire hope and to carry people with them, are weak and immersed in the mutual blame game most of the time.”
Maariv opts to focus on Diskin’s remark that the Palestinian issue is a more pressing security threat than the Iranian nuclear program. He criticized Netanyahu further, saying, “It doesn’t appear as though the present government is trying to change the trend in anything concerning the settlement industry.”
“The Palestinians feel that they are being robbed of their state,” Diskin said. “The concentration of gas fumes in the air is getting to the level that a tiny spark can lead to a huge conflagration,” he said about the mood in the West Bank.
Israel Hayom, of course, publishes the rebuttal from the prime minster’s allies, who anonymously tell the paper that Diskin is “disconnected from reality.”
According to the paper, “sources close to the prime minister” responded to Diskin’s criticism saying that his comment that the failure of peace talks with the Palestinians is more dangerous than a nuclear-armed Iran is “disconnected from reality and lacks strategic vision.”
“The prime minister won’t be influenced by recycled statements, and also not from sermons derived from the personal frustrations of someone who wanted to receive the position of head of the Mossad from Netanyahu and didn’t,” those sources say.
Concerning the Palestinians, Maariv also reports that the Jordanians are expected to tell US Secretary of State John Kerry that they want a continued Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley to defend the shared border. The concern is that if Israel withdraws its troops from the Jordanian border as part of a deal with the Palestinians, it will leave the Jordan Valley open to arms smuggling and cross-border infiltration.
The paper reports that Kerry is accompanied by retired US general John Allen, who has devised a set of security options for a final agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians ,which is expected to relate to Israel’s presence in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians have thus far refused any Israeli military presence.
In a Haaretz op-ed, meanwhile, Reuven Pedatzur writes that Israel’s relationship with Jordan is on the rocks in part because Israel backed out of a joint airport project pitched by Rabin nearly 20 years ago. “No one is concerned about our relationship with Jordan,” he says.
“In July 2011 the government decided to build an international airport north of Eilat, and on May 9 this year the cornerstone was laid. The process took place without coordination with the Jordanians, insulting them and fully ending the Eilat-Aqaba project,” he writes.
“The Prime Minister’s Office should start paying attention to the issue. It would be a shame if the arrogance of the officials responsible for the new airport estranges one of our last friends in the region.”